Hi! I’m Dave from boyinaband and welcome to day 4 of the 7 day studio series, where I’ll be explaining how to set up a beginner’s studio, with my homeslice Kieran here. Are you excited to learn today Kieran?
I sure do!
Today we’ll be looking at Microphones, those fantastically useful devices that turn audio into a manageable signal that you can slap a stupid amount of autotune on and become a pop sensation. Or if you don’t have large breasts and rich parents, just the audio bit.
Now there are more mics out there than there are girls that have swooned over Kieran’s jawbone on the comments of his videos without mentioning anything about his musical ability [cut to comments from his video], so it’s a frickin’ nightmare deciding which to buy, but I do have some useful tips that should help narrow it down for you.
Now each of these mics can be categorised into different types of microphones, and while it might be tempting to go straight for the “Shotgun” microphone to look cool in front of all your COD-playing friends, I’d stick with two remembering these 2 main types of microphone until you’re ready for more.
Those two are the “Dynamic” mic and “Condenser” mic.
“So What’s the difference between a Dynamic and a condenser microphone, Dave?” I hear you ask. Let’s ask Kieran, shall we? What do you think Kieran?
Uh… I don’t know
No marks for you.
There are differences in the way the microphones work, but since we’re musicians and not microphone engineers, all we really need to know is that dynamic mics are like arrogant rappers – they like louder, more brash sounds and are really tough, whereas condenser mics are like skinny-jean clad singer songwriters; tending to the more sensitive, delicate side of audio. This one even has a defined jawbone like a particular singer songwriter I know.
[cut to comparing the mics with me and kieran]
So with that in mind, can you guess what you’d record vocals with? Kieran?
A condenser microphone? [ding! A scoreboard pops up]
It sure is! How about a loud, distorted guitar amp?
A dynamic microphone?
You’ve got it. Well done Kieran! Have a stale cookie.
Kim Jong Il once told me that condenser microphones are also kinda like inefficient child labourers – you have to use 48v of electricity to make them work. This is where that Phantom power thing I mentioned comes in handy – this little button on the sound card allows condenser microphones to work.
You might be wondering how much a microphone can really affect the sound. Let’s try it on a few different mics I own.
So plug in your sound card to your computer, fire up your DAW and arm a track for recording. Let’s get started! [show these things being done]
[Cut to Kieran holding a note, cutting between that note on my Rode NT-1a, SM57, SM58, beta 52A and C02 and SH1T mic - done quickly]
You can hear that they all have very different tones.
Let’s talk about the different microphones whilst Kieran plays some spontaneous, pretty guitar in the background with the respective microphone and no other processing.
The Rode NT-1A is the condenser microphone I use. It’s really good for the money and it’s great for things like vocals and acoustic guitar.
The Shure SM57 is an industry standard microphone, even though it’s cheap – generally used for micing up guitar cabs for distorted tones since they have to be quite loud, and that might damage a lesser mic. I’m pretty sure the “S” stands for Spartan.
The Shure SM58 is another industry standard; generally used for live vocals since it’s another rugged one, not so much in the studio though.
The Co2 was a cheap stereo pair of microphones I got for micing up the cymbols on my drumkit. Actually pretty good for the price.
The Shure Beta 52A is a commonly used mic for kick drums and bass guitar cabs. Basically anything with a decent low end. Insert pun here.
The SH1T microphone is great for making you eternally disappointed with your music, so if you love the feeling of despair, this one’s for you.
So depending on what you’re going for, you’ll need different microphones. Getting a decent microphone will set your studio up for years to come.
For Kieran’s purposes, and I imagine quite a few of you out there, a condenser microphone for vocals will be the main one to look at, and should be sufficient to begin with at least.
So ideally, if you can spring for it, aim for the Rode NT-1A which is currently around £159. I’ve been told good things about the AT-2020 as well if that’s a bit much for you.
Taking a closer look, we can see it’s got the XLR lead input on the bottom and not much else really. The little dot on the front shows us which end to sing into, and I don’t think it gets more complex than that. Doesn’t even have an on-off switch you can forget to turn on, which has totally never happened to me before with other microphones.
It comes in a pack with an XLR lead, to connect it to your sound card, a pop shield, to stop popping sounds like this happening [doing it], and most importantly a shockmount, which they’ll try to tell you is to prevent extraneous vibrations from affecting your recording, but it’s really for showing off to your friends and making you feel like you’re a real producer.
[show these things attatching to the mic stand]
Otherwise, try something cheaper like the Samson C02. It’s around £80 for the stereo pair, so let’s hear a quick comparison between that and the Rode NT-1A again.
[beatbox comparison, or just singing if it’s not very obvious from the beatboxing]
So if you can’t hear a difference, or if you have an unhealthy love for the periodic table, it might be worth starting out on the C02. It does come with a clip by the way, but you’ll have to make do without the snazzy shockmount, and get a coathanger with a pair of tights stretched over it.
Either way, you’ll also need a microphone stand to put it on. The cheapest boom stand I saw was £15. You can get tabletop ones for less, but I imagine most singers like to stand up and you probably don’t have a 3 foot tall vocalist. If you do, then please get famous really fast so we can enjoy watching you perform live.
So how are we doing on the budget there Kieran?
With the £159 Rode NT-1A and the £15 Mic stand, that brings us to a total of £363 – wow, my favourite number!
I don’t know, I just like it. The Super Budget Studio total with the £80 mic and the £15 mic stand, that comes to £224.
Plus an annoyed girlfriend after realising you cut up her tights.
Yeah please don’t tell her
Relax, girls don’t watch these videos, they tune out by like day 2.
So now we have our microphone, software and sound card and you can finally start recording some music! There’s a hell of a lot to learn about microphone placement, so be sure to look at some video tutorials to learn how to record what you need in your track. If you liked this video, hit like, then join me tomorrow in Day 5, where we’ll get digital with some MIDI devices like this… and this… and even this! [keyboard, pads, cat] – okay not that. Don’t try plugging a MIDI cable into your cat. Uh… bye.